Matthew Wilson, Rules Without Rulers. The Possibilities and Limits of Anarchism.

Author:Swann, Thomas
Position:Book review

Matthew Wilson, Rules Without Rulers. The Possibilities and Limits of Anarchism Winchester & Washington: Zero Books, 2014; 244pp; ISBN 9781782790082.

The ambitious goal of Matthew Wilson's book is to rethink and rearticulate anarchism itself, both as a political theory and as a social movement. In doing so, Wilson takes as his subject what he describes as the 'anarchist common sense' (p 4), submitting it to a critical engagement. This common sense, he writes, is a 'basic libertarian impulse' which 'has not changed dramatically in the last two centuries; it has been added to, stretched, pulled and tugged, and so has inevitably incorporated new concerns, and no doubt abandoned a few along the way: but its most fundamental elements remain' (pp12-13).

Wilson's approach is not that of an outsider, taking a disinterested look at anarchism as a phenomenon to be studied, rather he writes as an activist and his approach should be seen within the broader trend in anarchist studies, and social movement studies more generally, of, as the Zapatistas put it, walking together while asking questions.

Wilson's aim is to highlight, theoretically and practically, the problems inherent in the simplistic account of anarchism as that 'fanatical love for liberty'. Indeed, he argues throughout, that such a fanatical love ought not to materialise as an uncritical and simplistic enactment of absolute freedom. Anarchism points towards a world not without rules but without rulers, as Wilson's title suggests, and this book takes up several key areas in which this fanatical love of liberty is problematised and in which limits on liberty may well be consistent with anarchism. 'An anti-authoritarian politics must be one which recognises, and learns to live with, the limits of freedom' (205).

The book progresses through six chapters, each of which engages with a different aspect of the anarchist common sense Wilson wishes to challenge: the examples of actually existing anarchism so often used as argumentative devices; the definition of freedom within anarchism and the limits thereof; anarchist ethics and the...

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